Lisa Landrum, M.D., Ph.D., a physician at the Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine, was recently honored for her national advocacy work on behalf of her patients with gynecologic cancers.
Landrum was presented the Ambassador Award from the Society of Gynecologic Oncology. As one of two winners across the United States, Landrum was recognized for educating Oklahoma’s congressional delegation about several issues of great importance to women who are fighting gynecologic cancers and the physicians who treat them.
Landrum’s efforts began with a “Legislative Fly-In” organized by the Society of Gynecologic Oncology. Landrum joined her colleagues from around the nation in educating their congressional leaders and staff about several timely concerns. One was to encourage Oklahoma’s members of Congress to sponsor requests for more federal funding for gynecologic cancer clinical trials. In Oklahoma, gynecologic cancers affect a large number of women, and ovarian cancer is particularly difficult to treat.
“We have made some strides through clinical trials treatment, but we have a lot of room for improvement,” Landrum said. “Most people with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at Stage 3, and 75 to 80 percent of them will recur. Those are the people who will ultimately die from their disease. Because that’s the case, clinical trials must be a priority.”
Landrum also educated congressional members about a pending guideline within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Called “step therapy,” it is problematic for patients, especially those fighting cancer, she said. The plan would require doctors to prescribe the least expensive drugs first, then prove patients had failed those therapies before advancing to a different, more expensive drug that is known to be more effective.
“For example, I would be required to use cheaper anti-nausea medication first, knowing it would fail for my patients,” she said. “I understand that cost is a concern, but physicians have a significant amount of knowledge about which drugs a patient needs to manage nausea while undergoing specific chemotherapies. It’s cruel to make a patient take a less-effective drug. For some patients, their experience with chemo and nausea is so bad that they’re unwilling to even try again. That’s the kind of situations we risk encountering if physicians aren’t allowed to make the best choices for their patients.”
After Landrum visited with leaders on Capitol Hill, one congressman followed up by sending a staff member to visit the Stephenson Cancer Center to learn more firsthand and ask for ways his office could help. Landrum and others at the Stephenson had the opportunity to show how clinical trials can provide lifesaving care to cancer patients. The experience underscores the importance of physicians communicating with policymakers about the needs of patients in their home states.
“As physicians, we can talk to our patients about clinical trials, but we can’t do that unless those opportunities are there, which often starts with funding,” she said. “This was an opportunity to educate our legislators and ask for their help in our areas of focus.”
Joan Walker, M.D., another gynecologic oncologist at Stephenson Cancer Center, said Landrum’s advocacy represents her dedication to her patients.
“Dr. Landrum strives to do everything she can for each patient she treats,” Walker said. “Her willingness to travel to Washington, D.C., and then have ongoing conversations with our leaders shows she is willing to go the extra mile to advocate for her patients. Physicians need to have a voice at the federal level, and we’re grateful for her work on behalf of Oklahomans.”